Introduction: The current generation of youth is the largest the world has ever known, estimated in 1.8 billion young women and men. Yet, young people’s health continues to be a neglected issue that demands more attention and effective strategies. Particularly, mental health disorders are a health priority in this group because half of all mental illnesses begin in this age. Although the presence of depression and anxiety has been linked to life stress in both children and adult populations, the association between stress and common mental health disorders is not yet clear among young adults.
Methods: Questionnaires including the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) and a reduced version of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) were sent via email to the students of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. A statistical study was made for all three scales for the whole sample and subgroups based on gender and symptoms severity.
Results: Our sample consisted of 4301 students with a range age from 17 to 30 years. For the PSS-10 scale, the 25% of the participants with the highest scores presented values of 26 or above out of 40, and the highest mean score was 20.9 in females versus 18.4 in men. Regarding the GAD-7 scale, 50.2% of our sample presented clinical levels of anxiety symptoms and thus were potential cases (40.27% of men and 53.82% of women). Lastly, in the PHQ-7 scale, 47.18% of our sample presented clinical levels of depression symptoms and thus were potential cases (39.87% of men and 49.83% of women). The correlations between scales were 0.76 for PSS and GAD scales, 0.72 for PSS and PHQ scales, and 0.69 for GAD and PHQ scales.
Discussion and Conclusion: Given the high proportion of students who score above clinical levels of anxiety and depression, along with high levels of perceived stress, young adults may be more vulnerable than the general population, to the perception of stress and to the development of anxiety or depression. This finding supports the need to implement specific programs for the prevention, detection and treatment of these common mental illnesses in young people.